Review: The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel

Categories: Literary Fiction, Mystery


Vincent is a bartender at the Hotel Caiette, a five-star lodging on the northernmost tip of Vancouver Island. On the night she meets Jonathan Alkaitis, a hooded figure scrawls a message on the lobby’s glass wall: “Why don’t you swallow broken glass.” High above Manhattan, a greater crime is committed: Alkaitis is running an international Ponzi scheme, moving imaginary sums of money through clients’ accounts. When the financial empire collapses, it obliterates countless fortunes and devastates lives. Vincent, who had been posing as Jonathan’s wife, walks away into the night. Years later, a victim of the fraud is hired to investigate a strange occurrence: a woman has seemingly vanished from the deck of a container ship between ports of call.

In this captivating story of crisis and survival, Emily St. John Mandel takes readers through often hidden landscapes: campgrounds for the near-homeless, underground electronica clubs, the business of international shipping, service in luxury hotels, and life in a federal prison. Rife with unexpected beauty, The Glass Hotel is a captivating portrait of greed and guilt, love and delusion, ghosts and unintended consequences, and the infinite ways we search for meaning in our lives.


The Glass Hotel is a literary mystery that explores the consequences of Jonathan Alkaitis’ Ponzi scheme on the lives of several people. Vincent, who pretends to be his second wife, is arguably one of the main characters, but we get insights into the lives of others, old friends, an estranged brother, some victims, whose stories are connected by the crime and form one narrative of broken relationships, unsolved issues, chance, corruption.

I first approached this book expecting a regular mystery, in the line of The Sundown Motel by Simone St. James minus the ghosts or The Hunting Party by Lucy Foyle but more literary, but it reminds me far more of Disappearing Earth by Julia Philips. Like the latter, the beauty of this book is on the portrayal of the lives of the people in the story, some of them only marginally connected to the crime. It’s a lovely book to sit down with for several hours and get lost in.

Because I expected something a bit different from the book, my experience was not optimal, and it took me several chapters to really get into the story; the change in points of view made me get distracted a lot. By the time I was halfway through I had gotten used to the book’s rythm, and then it was a really wonderful read. I would be curious to re-read this knowing now what to expect from the story format.

The beautiful writing really brings this to another level and makes the book a poignant read that I highly recommend.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

7 thoughts on “Review: The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel

  1. Such a great review! I saw Emily St. John Mandel was coming out with a new book and has made me realize I need to pick up Station Eleven. That book has been on my TBR for months now. I hope to read that in the next couple of months then I’ll definitely pick this up. I’m happy to hear good things about it.

    Like

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